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Broncos drafts have been hit-or-miss in early rounds since 2011

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Players picked in the first three rounds are generally expected to start. If they don't end up as starters in the NFL they are considered to be "failed" draft picks. How have the Broncos done with our early picks over the past 4 years?

Sylvester Williams is one of only 5 early round Broncos draft picks to become a starter since 2011
Sylvester Williams is one of only 5 early round Broncos draft picks to become a starter since 2011
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Most of us would think that the Broncos have been quite successful with our early round (1-3) picks over the past four drafts, but have we really? Yes we have Von Miller, but we also have quite a few early picks who have not become starters for us. How does our track record compare to the rest of the league? I've got this tabulated below similarly to how I did in the analysis of the late round picks over the same time period. AV is approximate value. SUM AV is the total of the AV for all players drafted rnds 1-3 for a given team. AVE is the average AV (SUM AV/# of picks). MAX is the maximum AV (coming from the best player listed in the final column). PB App is total number of Pro-Bowl selections by players drafted by said team. STY is "starter years" - if you have two players who both were starters for 3 years while all of your other picks did not become starters, then you have a STY of 6. "Fails" are picks that did not become starters (at least not yet). Fail rate = ("fails")/(# of picks).

Comparative Value and Success of Rounds 1-3 2011-2014

TEAM # of picks SUM AV AVE Max PB App STY "Fails" Fail Rate Best Player rnd 1-3
DAL 11 176 16.0 43 6 16 2 18% DeMarco Murray
CAR 10 158 15.8 59 4 13 2 20% Cam Newton
SEA 9 142 15.8 49 3 12 3 33% Russell Wilson
IND 11 158 14.4 42 4 16 3 27% Andrew Luck
KAN 12 152 12.7 38 5 15 5 42% Justin Houston
TAM 11 136 12.4 28 1 18 2 18% Lavonte David
ATL 9 106 11.8 40 2 11 2 22% Julio Jones
DEN 13 152 11.7 43 3 15 7 54% Von Miller
TEN 12 140 11.7 31 0 15 4 33% Jurrell Casey
CIN 15 174 11.6 46 6 14 10 67% Andy Dalton
BUF 13 149 11.5 38 4 13 2 15% Marcell Dareus
STL 16 178 11.1 35 3 20 7 44% Robert Quinn
MIN 12 131 10.9 24 3 14 6 50% Matt Kalil
CHI 11 118 10.7 25 3 13 4 36% Alshon Jeffery
NYJ 12 128 10.7 31 1 16 3 25% Muhammad Wilkerson
HOU 14 148 10.6 64 3 15 8 57% J.J. Watt
WAS 10 105 10.5 32 2 9 6 60% Robert Griffin
NOR 10 103 10.3 32 2 9 5 50% Cameron Jordan
MIA 13 130 10.0 32 2 14 5 38% Ryan Tannehill
CLE 14 138 9.9 25 0 15 6 43% Jabaal Sheard
BAL 13 126 9.7 29 1 13 6 46% Torrey Smith
NWE 15 145 9.7 28 0 11 9 60% Nate Solder
PHI 13 125 9.6 24 1 12 6 46% Fletcher Cox
PIT 12 115 9.6 25 1 10 7 58% Le'Veon Bell
SDG 14 132 9.4 27 0 17 5 36% Corey Liuget
ARI 12 106 8.8 53 4 9 8 67% Patrick Peterson
GNB 12 103 8.6 36 2 5 5 42% Randall Cobb
DET 12 96 8.0 18 0 10 8 67% Riley Reiff
OAK 10 78 7.8 24 0 11 4 40% Stefen Wisniewski
SFO 14 106 7.6 34 2 6 10 71% Colin Kaepernick
NYG 12 84 7.0 14 1 8 6 50% Rueben Randle
JAX 12 83 6.9 11 0 11 5 42% Jonathan Cyprien

There have been 389 players picked in the first three rounds over the past four drafts. All but fifteen of them were still in the league in 2014. While that is most definitely a "failed" pick, I'm sticking with my definition as stated above.

Broncos have Von Miller, but also a number of early round picks who haven't become starters

We see that Broncos have been above average in terms of getting value from our early round picks. Of course about one third of that value came from Von Miller alone, who was the second overall pick in 2011. While you can fail with the second overall pick (e.g. Robert Gallery, Charles Rogers, Ryan Leaf and Rick Mirer) most second overall picks go on to have very long and productive NFL careers (e.g. Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson and Donovan McNabb). Von Miller has all three of the Broncos' pro-bowl apperances from our recent early draft picks. Eight of our thirteen picks fit my criteria for fails - the five starter "successes"  being Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Orlando Franklin, Derek Wolfe and Sylvester Williams. Starters are players who start at least  eight games even if they only play ~50% of the potential non-special teams snaps (Knighton was a starter for us despite only playing about 50% of the defensive snaps). For simplicity I did not try to parse players in the above table by % of offensive or defensive snaps as that would have involved a lot more data entry.

I will note that while KC has drafted poorly in rounds 4-7 recently, they have gotten some really good value out of their early picks in the last 4 drafts. It doesn't hurt than that they have generally been drafting in the first half of each round or earlier. Our other two division rivals have not had much success recently with their picks in the first 3 rounds.

One problem with ranking teams based upon drafting starters vs non-starters (fail rate) is that is puts good teams at a disadvantage. Generally bad teams have to start their early round picks regardless of how good or bad those players might be. Good teams generally have the luxury of either waiting on a player to develop (Brock Osweiler?!?!) or using a "failed" early pick in a backup/specialist role (Ronnie Hillman).  While that provides some comfort, we are still near the bottom of the league in fail rate - 62% is 29th worst over this period. Keep in mind that Roby, Latimer and Schofield could all end up as starters this year which would greatly improve our "success" rate.

Broncos "Failed" Early Draft Picks 2011-2014

Bradley Roby
Cody Latimer
Michael Schofield
Montee Ball
Kayvon Webster
Brock Osweiler
Ronnie Hillman
Nate Irving

EDIT - Nate Irving started 8 regular season games for us in 2014 so he should not have been in my fails category. This has now been corrected.

The four teams whose fail rate was worse than Denver's are Arizona,  Detroit, Cincinnatti and San Francisco.  Buffalo leads the league with a fail rate of only 15% - only two of their thirteen early round picks have not become starters and Cyrus Kouandjio could still become a starter. On the other end of the spectrum we have the 49ers, who have had surprisingly little success with their early picks - only 4 of their 14 early picks over the last four drafts have become starters (Eric Reid, Aldon Smith, Colin Kapernick and Chris Culliver).

I was surprised to see that DAL has gotten the most value out of their top picks recently. Demarco Murray was the biggest contributor, but Tyron Smith was almost as good (total AV of 42). Two other offensive line picks have turned into gold for them, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Dallas was also tied for the league lead with 6 Pro-bowl appearances (tied with Cincy) from their picks. On the other end of the spectrum from Dallas we have Jacksonville, who despite drafting high all four years has been surprisingly bad at finding value in their picks. Jonathan Cyprien is their best pick but his career AV at this point is 11. Jacksonville is one of seven teams to have not picked a Pro-Bowl player in the early rounds over the last 4 seasons. Four of the teams in that group are expected as they have been bad for the entire time period (TEN, JAX, OAK and CLE), but the other three are suprising since they are teams that have had a great deal of success over the past 4 seasons (DET, SDG and NWE). In the latter three cases, the lack of Pro-Bowlers is a combination of questionable early round picks and/or talented rosters with few holes.

Roby, Latimer and Schofield could all end up as starters this year, which would greatly improve Denver's "success" rate

Only 15 of the 389 players selected in the first three rounds over the past four drafts have made AllPro and only 3 of those players have been named AllPro more than once: Patrick Peterson, Luke Keuchly and J.J. Watt. Von Miller has only been named AllPro once.

An area where we have done well, compared to other teams is starter years (STY) - meaning that the guys we have drafted who become starters have STAYED starters (Miller, Franklin, Moore are all multiyear starters). Sylvester Williams will most likely be a starter again this year. The Rams have been the best team recently at finding "lasting" starters while the Packers have been the worst (Cobb only has one year where he was listed as a starter (2014). Prior to last season he had only started 12 games in 3 years. San Fransisco has not been much better than Green Bay in terms of finding lasting starters - of their only Kapernick has been a starter for more than one season.

A player that is drafted and starts immediately as a rookie and then continues to be a starter is what I am going to call a "home run" - HR. Over the last 4 drafts we only have 3 (Miller, Franklin and Moore). Below is a table showing how our home run rate compares to other franchises over this time period

2011-2014 NFL Draft "Home Runs" in rounds 1-3

TEAM # of picks Home Runs HR%
MIN 12 6 50%
OAK 10 5 50%
BUF 13 6 46%
TAM 11 5 45%
STL 16 7 44%
CAR 10 4 40%
IND 11 4 36%
NYJ 12 4 33%
SEA 9 3 33%
PHI 13 4 31%
NOR 10 3 30%
DAL 11 3 27%
JAX 12 3 25%
NYG 12 3 25%
DET 12 3 25%
MIA 13 3 23%
DEN 13 4 31%
BAL 13 3 23%
ATL 9 2 22%
SDG 14 3 21%
HOU 14 3 21%
CIN 15 3 20%
TEN 12 2 17%
KAN 12 2 17%
GNB 12 2 17%
CLE 14 2 14%
WAS 10 1 10%
CHI 11 1 9%
PIT 12 1 8%
ARI 12 1 8%
SFO 14 1 7%
NWE 15 1 7%

EDIT- I originally left Derek Wolfe off the list. He is a "home run" pick even though he missed 5 games in 2013 due to injury he still started 11.

As you can see, we have not been great at finding immediate and continued starters in the early round recently. Part of this is due to having a fairly strong roster every year after the 2011 draft with few holes that we didn't fill in free agency. The teams with the biggest HR% are four teams that have been fairly lacking in talent over the past four seasons - MIN, OAK, BUF and TAM. The teams on the other end of the spectrum are generally considered to have talented rosters - PIT, ARI, SFO and NWE (and have had good success on the field recently). For what it's worth, early picks that make AllPro would be "grand slams". So while Orlando Franklin was a homerun pick, Von Miller was/is a grand slam pick.